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    Volume 9 Issue 18| April 30, 2010|

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Time for a Change?

Faruq Hasan

Britain may end up with a hung parliament with Gordon Brown as the prime minister.

On May 6, it will be election time in Britain. Unlike here in South Asia, it would be an understatement to call elections in Europe a sober affair: voter apathy is usually rampant and actual turnout is often around the middle 30 percentile. But this time around, things have spicier flavour. Elections are getting spiced up: like their cousins across the pond, British candidates are copying American style television debates, radio talk show hosts regularly regale their audiences with election manifestos and candidate track records, and the infamous tabloids are having a ball with their character assassinations and general mudslinging. But what has actually been the most significant aspect of these elections is the strong possibility of a regime change after nearly a decade. The incumbent Labour Government, which has been ruling the roost ever since Prime Minister Tony Blair got elected, is apparently about to fall.

A decade is a long time in politics, much so for the challengers in the form of David Cameron, the young and telegenic leader of the Conservative Party (or the Torries as they are affectionately called), followed by Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, who are supposed to be the deal maker (or deal breaker, depending on your party of preference) in these elections. Both the incumbent Labour Party and its challengers have much to prove: Labour will try to persuade the ever growing skeptical population that their tenure has been a successful one, despite falling education rates across the country, the recent pension fiasco, mismanagement of the public financial system leading to one of the highest post War national debt figures, and of course the hugely controversial alliance with the US in the invasion of Iraq. The Torries, on the other hand, will clamour for heads to roll based on what they perceive to be a disastrous last few years under Labour rule. In such a tight contest, the Liberal Democrats, who have been the marginalied party for the longest time, have a chance to align themselves with either Labour or the Conservatives (although the latter seems highly unlikely) and be kingmakers, but more importantly, have a significant say in policy formulations, especially foreign policy.

From a neutral perspective, the Torries have a real shot at winning the elections, but will probably fall short of winning an outright majority. Traditionally, the Conservatives stand for putting power in the hands of the common people, as opposed to believing in the omnipotent State as an instrument of egalitarianism. The essence of the Torries lies in their deep belief that the individual knows what's best for her: if power is returned to the voter, she will use it more judiciously than the bureaucracy or other state empowered body. The voters seem to agree. Amidst public corruption and inefficiency, the general English voter seems to have lost faith in public institutions. And this is where the Conservatives are really cashing in their chips. One recent policy change has specially struck a chord, with the Torries promising power over schooling into the hands of parents as opposed to teachers and state controlled educators. Aside from giving power back to students and parents, the Torries claim this will also annul years of bureaucratic inefficiency that the Labour government has bred, and will in fact force schools to be more competitive to attract students and competent teachers, an idea that is a veritable anathema to their Labour counterparts who believe that this will further engender the already strong class segregation in English society.

David Camerron, despite his Eton education, portrays himself to be the everyman.

But the Conservatives will also claim that this is a far stronger party than that which existed under both Thatcher and John Major, with the Torries now more attuned to plights and ailments of the general Englishman. The Torries seem to have successfully remodelled themselves, a process similar to what Labour had undergone when Tony Blair was at the helm. No longer are the Conservatives considered elitist or pandering to the rich. David Camerron, despite his Eton education, portrays himself to be the everyman Prime Minister who has his fingers on the pulse of English society. He has even made himself a pro-immigration candidate, an issue which has long been the boogeyman haunting the Conservatives. Immigrants are always welcome in the UK, as long as they conform to the law of the nation and bring in skills that are needed and there exists paucity for. Cameron also accentuates his pro-family credentials by promising to abolish incentives given to young women to become single mothers (though he never spells out exactly what these incentives are), and to stem the high divorce rates throughout the country. Cameron also plays his “liberty” card pretty well: national identity cards and over reliance on close circuit cameras that infringe on privacy rights must all go. So far, Cameron seems to have struck a chord with the general public who all seem to think there is a need for change, although seldom articulating what exactly this entails.

But even across the borders, people will be keeping a close eye in the coming elections. The US government has recently turned more to the center left (or Marxist if you believe its detractors) and although Obama is wont to ally himself with whoever wins the elections, but you'd think things would be smoother with a Labour Prime Minister in power. Across Europe too, the elections would serve as a bellwether to conservative parties who have taken a beating recently, namely in Germany and Sweden. Can a famous Torry victory galvanise right wing parties all across Europe? Or will the Labour party cling on to power and prove that change for change's sake is simply not changing. And you thought British politics was boring!



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